. . . . . . .
Nik Paterson looked around at the perfect Los Angeles day: clear blue sky, bright green baseball field, warm sun shining down on the thousands of people with her at Dodger Stadium. There was only one thought on her mind: when can I get out of here?
Fisher was next to her, his blond man bun golden in the sun, laughing as he drank warm beer to celebrate his birthday. He and his buddies were talking about lifting, or their latest auditions, or their upcoming car purchases—all of the things his friends always talked about, all of the things Nik couldn’t care less about. If she’d known this birthday outing was going to include a bunch of Fisher’s friends, she would have at least gotten one of her girlfriends to come along so she would have someone to talk to.
Although to be fair, it was possible Fisher had told her his friends were coming and she hadn’t been paying attention. She tended not to pay that much attention when Fisher talked, but then, she hadn’t been dating him for the past five months for his conversational skills.
Nik looked back up at the scoreboard and sighed. It was still only the fifth inning; she probably had at least an hour, maybe an hour and a half, more of this.
She didn’t have anything against baseball, exactly. It was just that she’d rather be spending this beautiful spring day at home with her laptop and a glass of bourbon on the rocks than outside at a baseball stadium with a warm beer. But when the hot dude you were sleeping with wanted to go to a Dodgers game for his birthday, you sucked it up and went along with him and his bros.
She sighed again and reached for her phone. Maybe she could get some work done as she sat there.
Just as she was starting to make some actual progress on a draft of an article, Fisher nudged her hard.
“Nik! Put your phone down, you can’t miss this!” He threw his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek. She pressed save and tucked her phone back in her pocket. His favorite baseball player must be coming up to bat or something.
She looked down at the field, but nothing was going on there. She followed Fisher’s pointed finger and looked up at the scoreboard, just in time to see on the screen:
NICOLE: I LOVE YOU. WILL YOU MARRY ME? FISHER.
She turned to Fisher, her mouth wide open.
“What the hell is going on?”
To her horror, he dropped down onto one knee, on top of the peanut shells that carpeted the concrete, dangerously close to the puddle of spilled beer.
Oh God. He had a ring box in his hand.
“Nikole.” He tucked a strand of hair behind his ear and opened the ring box. She averted her eyes. “Will you make me the happiest man in the world?”
Was she asleep? This definitely felt like a nightmare.
They’d only been dating for five months! That he loved her was news to her—he’d certainly never said that before—but a proposal? He didn’t even know how to spell her name!
She tried to put on a smile, but she’d never had the best poker face—except, strangely, when she was actually playing poker. Not even his best friends would call Fisher perceptive, but even he could tell something was off with his happy moment.
“Nik, did you hear me? You’re just standing there. You haven’t even put the ring on!”
“I don’t . . .” She cleared her throat and tried to talk in a low voice, so the whole damn stadium couldn’t tell what was going on. “It’s just that we’ve never discussed this. We aren’t really in a place to . . . I didn’t . . . I just wish you’d brought this up before . . . before now.”
“Are you saying no?”
He was still on one knee, good God.
“I’m saying this isn’t really the place to have this conversation.”
He just stared at her, wide-eyed.
“Are you saying no?” he repeated.
She took a deep breath.
“I’m trying not to say that out loud so everyone can hear me.”
She was still hoping this was some sort of a joke. That any minute, he would reveal this was for a commercial or a reality show or something, and they would all laugh and go back to not paying attention to the game.
“Come on, Nik,” Fisher said. Why wouldn’t he stand up? “We’re great together! Live a little! Give us a shot!”
Live a little??? Was he approaching marriage like he would a spontaneous trip to Palm Springs for the weekend?
“Fisher. Don’t do this.”
“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.” He snapped the ring box closed, stood up, and tossed his head. The head toss didn’t work as well when his hair was in the bun. “Rejecting me in public! On my birthday! What kind of a person are you?”
He stormed off and ran up the stadium stairs. So she guessed this wasn’t a joke then.
She looked at his bros, and his bros looked at her. They shook their heads like they were disappointed in her, turned, and filed out of the row after him.
Which left Nik alone to face the forty-five thousand pairs of eyes on her.
* * *
• • •
Carlos nudged his sister Angela as the blond dude and his bros stalked up the stairs and out of the stadium.
“Now I know what to tell your boyfriend not to do.”
Angela rolled her eyes.
“Nice try, but I don’t have a boyfriend.”
Damn. She consistently refused to let him meet guys she was dating, so he was reduced to trying to trick her into admitting she had a boyfriend. Either he never managed to catch her off guard enough to admit it, or she’d never had a boyfriend since he started trying this. He was betting on the former.
Granted, he never told Angie anything about the women he went out with, either, but that was different. He hadn’t dated anyone seriously in years, and none of the women he had minor interludes with these days mattered enough to meet his sister.
“You have one good point,” Angela said. “Anyone dating me should definitely not do that.” Angela’s hand gestures got bigger as she talked. “She said they hadn’t discussed it. Who proposes to someone if they haven’t discussed it? Especially in public?”
He looked back down at the woman—Nicole—now alone in her row. She’d sat back down and was typing something on her phone. The sun picked out the golden highlights in her dark curly hair. She was doing a very good job of pretending the whole stadium wasn’t talking about her.
“I feel so bad for her.” He couldn’t believe she hadn’t jumped up to flee the building. The game had started back up again, but no one was watching. Everyone was looking at her. Including Carlos.
“So do I,” Angela said.
Nicole twirled one of her curls around her finger and pretended to watch the game. Carlos realized he was staring at her and forced himself to look away.
He turned to Angela and shook his head.
“I get trying to make a big romantic gesture and all, and wanting a surprise, but . . .”
“Deciding to spend your life together shouldn’t be a surprise,” Angela said. “It should be something the two of you talk about first!”
“Oh, hey, speaking of,” he said. “Did I tell you Drew proposed to his girlfriend a few days ago?”
“Really? That’s fantastic. I never would have thought a year ago that your friend Drew would be engaged.” She looked up at the JumboTron, and then at Carlos. “She did say yes, right?”
“She did. But then, they’d talked about it first.”
Carlos looked back at the woman two rows down, who had not said yes. She was aggressively not looking at anyone around her. Her hair moved in the breeze that blew through the stadium, and her dark brown skin glowed in the sun. He’d only seen her face briefly up on the JumboTron, until he’d realized that this real-life drama was going on just ten feet below him, but he’d seen a striking face, with big dark eyes and bright red lips. He wondered how long she was going to stay at her seat. She probably hadn’t wanted to leave right away for fear of running into the man-bun guy, which made sense. But if he knew anything about the way things happened in L.A., if she sat here too long, she was in danger of . . .
Yep, there it was. The camera crew.
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